Becoming Jesus: back to the future

Tom Bartolomeo
2nd Sunday Easter A 2014
Acts 2: 42-47, Psalm 118
1 Peter 1: 3-9, John 20: 19-31
Reproduced with Permission

Jesus' disciples and Apostles from the beginning were being prepared for the future, but they did not progress seriously enough until late in their relationship with Jesus, specifically the last few days before Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. Even then Jesus' Apostles and disciples were stymied and stuck in place for ninety days, forty days until Jesus' Ascension into heaven and fifty days until Pentecost when the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, arrived whom Jesus had promised. We know very little what happened during those ninety days except for Jesus' unannounced appearances with the Apostles and others before his return to the Father. The Apostle Paul reported that Jesus had met over five hundred disciples before his Ascension explaining, in part, his delay in returning to heaven. (cf. 1 Corinthians 16: 6). Jesus' Apostles and disciples proved to be who they were from the beginning, not yet Apostles or disciples but 'followers.' They had been postulants for three years with no end time before they were unexpectedly thrust into the intensity of a novitiate. What Jesus had taught and revealed to them they now had time to think through and do some serious soul-searching

All they knew at Jesus' Resurrection was what Mary Magdalene told them, that an angel appeared as a "young man" at Jesus' empty tomb to tell her, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. . . . But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.' (Mark 16: 2-7). They were also told to stay in Jerusalem for the descent of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. When they would meet Jesus in Galilee they were not told. The Apostles returned to Galilee and after a disappointing exercise in night fishing Jesus surprised them waiting for them along the shore where he made them breakfast and reminded them, especially Peter, to "Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep." (John 21: 15-17). They were reminded what a good shepherd would do, giving them something more to think about.

They were undergoing a radical change of heart. They finally came to understand the superficiality and hardness of their hearts during the events of Jesus' Passion and death. Not unlike any of us who approach serious obligations with too little preparation, marriage, children or men who are ordained priests. We all in one degree or the other have had to deal with some difficult, perhaps some heart wrenching admissions and realizations in marriage, in parenting or for some ordaination to the priesthood. Sometimes so much promise and so much disappointment some of which may not be repairable. But our relationship with God and his Church is always repairable. And we have no better example than the Acts of the Apostles, chief of whom, the first Pope, Peter' acts. He had the most to regret and the most to gain. The two always, we should know, go together. At the bottom there is no place to go but up. Jesus was no longer with them. Before they had left everything up to Jesus. It is so easy to depend on another and not contribute. Now they are out on their own. While they were with Jesus they were simply called " the twelve", men without identities. On that fateful night of his arrest Jesus told them, "As the Father has sent me so I send you". They did not ask Jesus for specifics what they would be sent to do. They were more concerned about Jesus leaving them "for a little while". "What does this little while" mean they kept asking each other missing much of what Jesus told them. (John 16: 16-18). When Jesus told them that they would desert him, "Peter [without much forethought] said, 'Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.' And so said all the disciples." (Matthew 26:35 ). Like many people they had unanswered questions about Jesus' teachings and parables which they did not ask. They had, after all, the great advantage of having Jesus, God among them. "The Twelve" were confident that in any problem Jesus would intervene as he did with the demonic boy whose devil none of the twelve could expel, and they had to wait for Jesus' return from a meeting with Moses and Elijah on a mountain top with Peter, James and John standing by.

Alone for the first time in years they did not have Jesus to consult, and they retreated to their quarters in Jerusalem, sometimes praying in the temple and waiting for the Advocate to come whom Jesus had promised. They needed a time of retreat and soul searching before the Advocate came. They were humbled by their humiliations. In their retreat from the world their hearts were softened becoming more like Jesus, acceptable vessels of the Spirit of Christ, who would come to them in fire and "a sound like the rush of a violent wind" on Pentecost Day. (Act 2: 1-4). For them that was thirteen weeks away 'looking back to the future'. For us it is less, six weeks from today 'looking back to the future.' We, of course, have the advantage on not waiting for the future. We should know what we need to bring to the future.

Perhaps, it is a mistake that we move too quickly from Christ's death and resurrection to the coming of the Holy Spirit without a retreat and some soul-searching. "Quo vadis, Domine?" "Where are you going, Lord?", Peter asks Jesus as the legend goes. Peter is leaving the persecution in Rome and passes by a stranger and asks, "Where are you going, Sir?' and Jesus replies, "To Rome, to be crucified again."[1]

It was during this period of retreat and pause that Jesus instituted the two sacraments which the world then and the world now needs so badly, the Sacrament of life and the Sacrament of forgiveness which only Christ had the authority to do. Imagine a world where God is not incarnate in his Church after Jesus' Ascension - not to continue to raise life from death in Baptism and restore life in God in the forgiveness of sin! These powers Jesus had reserved to himself while he was bodily among his Apostles until his Resurrection and Ascension. At his Ascension Jesus transferred his priestly power and authority to his Church. "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. . . . obey everything I have commanded you." (Matthew 28: 18-20). The Holy Spirit of Christ at Pentecost would bring the last Sacrament of Confirmation to the Apostles and his Church fulfilling Jesus parting promise, "Remember, I am with you always to the end of time." (ibid.20).

Over this period of ninety days - from Easter to Pentecost - a radical transformation happens in the Church with the Apostles and disciples which the Book of the Acts of the Apostles testifies. The Apostles have come back to the future, the future God intended for them and for us at our baptisms and confirmations. How Baptism is so often trivialized as an event simply for choosing a nice sounding name and family gathering. In reality it is the bedrock of our faith and salvation. None of the other works and sacraments of the Church mean anything without Baptism. The rite of Baptism itself make that clear for the infant child as much as the adult. Both are brought back to life from spiritual death. "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?", the Apostle Paul taught. (Romans 6: 3). We die first as Christ and rise alive as Christ, in that order. The threefold pouring of water or submersion in water is more than the cleansing of sin but the death of the person, young or old, first and then re-birth rising from the water as Jesus rose from the tomb whichout which there is no salvation. Were I permitted only one sacrament it would be Baptism without which my priesthood would be meaningless, null and void. That was not possible before Jesus said, "make disciples . . . by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Birth in the name of the Holy Trinity forever! Lord, "lead us not into temptation." Otherwise we have everything to lose, life itself.

In these several weeks before Pentecost we find ourselves looking 'back to the future' through the conversion of the "Twelve" who died in their former lives and rose up as true Apostles sent by Christ to continue his work in the world as we, too, are called. We may be amazed at the transformation. At Pentecost many people heard the Apostles "speak in other languages . . . each one heard them speaking in their native language", and we know that Peter replied to their amazement saying, "Jesus of Nazareth . . . [whom] you crucified and killed . . . God raised him up, having freed him from death." (Act 2: 1-25). When the crowd responded, "'what should we do?' Peter said to them, 'Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'." (ibid. 37-38). And that day ten percent of the population of Jerusalem, three thousand Jews, were baptized. From them the early Church was born.

What Peter taught his converts is contained in the Apostles' first letter. We would be advised to read this First Letter of Peter and do some soul-searching ourselves. Throughout the letter Peter reminded his congregation that they should "live as strangers" in the world and "conduct yourselves reverently during your sojourn in a strange land . . . as strangers in exile . . . [and do] not indulge carnal desires. By their nature they wage war on the soul." (1 Peter 1: 1-21).

The season of judgement has begun, and begun with God's own household. If it begins this way with us, what must be the end for those who refuse obedience to the gospel of God? And if the just man is saved only with difficulty, what is to become of the godless and the sinner? Accordingly, let those who suffer as God's will requires continue in good works, and entrust their lives to the faithful Creator. (ibid. 17-19).